'I have seen the future – and it works', so American investigative journalist, Lincoln Steffens, told his readers around 100 years ago when he visited the newly set up Soviet system in Russia.

It didn’t do him a lot of good after the US became the chief opponent to the rise in world communism, but it maybe just highlights how difficult it is to predict not only the future but how people feel about it while It’s developing.

I mention this because the last couple of weeks have thrown up a few issues which could be construed as pointing the way to our own future – but, unlike Lincoln Steffens, I ‘hae ma doots’.

The most immediate development was last week’s announcement that the first phase of Track 1 of the Scottish Government’s long-awaited National Test Programme – which marks the benchmarking portion of the policy move to sustainable production – opens for business on Monday, May 9.

Revealing some of the details of the scheme, Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, said that the process would help producers prepare to meet the conditions of future agriculture policy and support, and would help encourage sustainable production.

The newly-published guidance is already available on-line for those who want to mug up on the details of the financial support which is being be made available for activity aimed at ‘improving awareness of the climate performance’ of individual businesses.

However, while we might all breathe a sigh of relief that something has finally been released after the scheme had more build up, teasers and trailers – and delays – than the last James Bond movie, it became clear that for those undertaking carbon audits, the £500 available for carrying out the task will only be available to those who haven’t already done one, or where the most up to date audit is three years or more old.

The would seem to rule out a fair number of the businesses who have been forward looking enough and listened to the way the wind was blowing and taken steps to be ahead of the pack.

Also, given the fact that you seem to be able to use an audit which is up to three years old, it also seems to miss out on the dynamic approach which should underlie these things – using the results to assess progress on a regular basis rather than simply giving a snapshot in time which, due to the huge variation in weather patterns, could be more than a little misleading.

On the subject of misleading, the fact that there are a whole host of carbon calculators out there has been the source of a fair bit of criticism as well. While any used have to meet the PAS 2050 standards, it’s really time that someone (and surely it should be the government) came out and decided which one is fit to be used as the standard.

But part of the new funding also has to go towards getting recommendations on how emissions could be reduced at farm level – from a registered Farm Business Adviser Accreditation Scheme for Scotland (FBAAS) advisor, so that’s also to be factored into the price.

I suppose you might add that the support itself is only £500 – half a tonne of fertiliser, or a tonne and a half of wheat – but having a carbon audit which meets the specified PAS 2050 standard is also the key to unlocking the second part of phase one of Track 1 (are you keeping up here?), with support for soil sampling and testing being reliant on having an audit.

While I suppose the idea of offering support to businesses who haven’t undertaken the carbon audit before is to drag those who have been reluctant in the past to assess their carbon footprint into the fold – and the cost and time of completing the required paperwork has already been factored into many businesses

But it could also be argued that what appears to be a penny-pinching approach sets a worrying precedent which goes against one of the fundamental principals which much of the industry, including the Farmer-Led Groups, clearly wanted to see in the new support system.

That was the fact that those who were already integrating the sort of sustainable approach which the Scottish Government wants us all to adopt into their businesses would not find themselves disadvantaged or ignored.

I’m not wanting to be unduly critical, but exactly what does this say to the trailblazers and early adopters of any new developments? Will it strike the sort of note to encourage them to continue pushing ahead – or will it send out the message that you’d be better off sitting on your hands and waiting to follow the herd like everyone else?

But, moving on, another glimpse of the future revolved not so much around the herd but more around the swarm, when, by an extremely convoluted route, I found myself tuning into a Zoom conference on the rise of insect farming.

There was a real buzz of excitement around the prospect of expanding this innovative area. While it might well offer a new solution to the country’s protein production deficit – and as an offshoot productively use up a fair amount of waste food – it seemed to be based more on an industrial process rather than anything we might actually recognise as farming, with Black Soldier Flies – or BSF as they referred to them – seeming to be the leading contenders.

For the arable sector there was also the prospect that, as a by-product, it could produce a fair amount of fertiliser in the shape of what they termed frass (the excrement of insect larvae to you and me) being available if production was scaled up in a major fashion.

Only fly in the ointment here was the fact that the high levels of ammonia in the fresh product tended to suppress crop growth – and the frass would probably have to be either composted or heat treated before commercial use.

Compositionally, a lot would depend on what the insects had been fed on as the remaining substrate, along with dead insects and bits that had dropped off these creatures would be included – but it’s good to know that people are looking closely into these aspects of the initiative rather than plunging blindly into it.

The third and possibly the most surprising revelation of what the future might hold came in the form of a piece of research from Sheffield University which claimed that adding rock dust to UK agricultural soils could absorb up to 45% of the atmospheric carbon dioxide needed to reach net zero.

The work, carried out at the University’s Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation, claimed that while the Committee on Climate Change – which provides independent advice to the government on climate change and carbon budgets – overlooked the approach in their recent net-zero report, this was only because it required further research.

This study, published in Nature Geoscience, indicated enhanced weathering was comparable to other carbon capture options – while also offering benefits to UK food production and soil health.

The study claimed that the use of rock dust on UK agricultural soils could remove between 6 and 30m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere annually by 2050 – at a capture cost of around £200 per tonne of CO2 currently, falling to half that by 2050. That makes it highly competitive relative to other carbon dioxide removal options.

The research also identified a number of additional benefits, including the mitigation of the powerful greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, along with the widespread reversal of soil acidification – so two big pluses there for the arable sector.

The authors claimed the technique could make a major overlooked contribution to the UK’s requirement for greenhouse gas removal in the coming decades.

The approach could also use existing infrastructure and had costs of carbon removal lower than other Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) strategies, such as direct air capture with carbon capture storage, and bioenergy crops with carbon capture and storage.

The centre’s director, Professor David Beerling, said: “Our analysis highlights the potential of UK agriculture to deliver substantial carbon drawdown by transitioning to managing arable farms with rock dust, with added benefits for soil health and food security.”

But I guess we’ll need to make sure that our carbon audit tools can cope with it …